Secret Cyprus History and
Alagadi – the lost harbour
of the Phoenicians
By Tom Roche…….
Where and when did the first Cypriots set foot in Cyprus? How did these people reach this land eleven thousand years ago, when they still sailed in straw rafts and blown up animal pelts, and did not yet know how to use sails?
What brought them to this island? Was it war, hunger, or when trailing after tuna fish, did they get caught in a current which made their return impossible?
In his book , The Unknown History of Cyprus, teacher, writer and researcher Rauf Ersenal sets out to answer this and many other intriguing questions. Along the way he discovers some little-known legends such as:
- The warship sunk off Famagusta during the Ottoman siege of the city in 1570
- The ‘bird artist’ of Amathus, whose signature lives on hundreds of ceramics to this day
- The ‘lost’ language of Cyprus- a form of words common to the ancient Mediterranean
- The oil lamp once owned by ‘Crixus the Cypriot’ as featured in the Hollywood blockbuster Gladiator
And as we tell you here, he also has a fascinating story to tell about one of the country’s favourlte beaches…..
Alagadi – The lost harbour of
By Rauf Ersenal…….
It all started in 1984, when I was appointed to the Trapeza (Beşparmak) village as a temporary primary school teacher. My discovery of Alagadi dates back to those years. In those times this area was so untouched, that on Fridays after closing the school I would have to walk three kilometres to reach the main road to go home.
Yet sometimes as if this wasn’t enough, despite having to wait for hours, there would not be one vehicle going to Kyrenia, which meant I had to walk all the way. Although today the mountains and shore are full of villas, Alagadi has managed to preserve itself as it was more than 30 years ago.
I remember spending a sleepless first night at the teachers’ lodgings in Beşparmak village. While trying to resolve the deep, dull sounds throughout the night, with the crowing of the roosters I realised that there were two hours to go before the opening of the school doors. Just as I was grumbling to myself and saying :’What am I doing here?’ there was a knock on the door at 7.00 am.
When I opened the door I found one of my students standing before me who told me his name was Ercan. His uniform was ironed and spotlessly clean and he handed me a breakfast tray which he was having difficulty carrying. On the tray there was warm milk, halloumi cheese and village olive bread. Without yet thanking him, I asked him what were the deep sounds during the night. The child said, laughing: “It’s the sound of the donkey’s footsteps in the farm shed. Underneath the village is full of caves and that’s why it echoes,” and I sighed in relief. Beşparmak village was a necropolis area for thousands of years and it was riddled with mole holes from the ancient work of smugglers.
After getting over the excitement of my first day at school, my students had found out that I was new to their village and virtually became my teacher to introduce their village to me. I was experiencing the happiness of discovering this small village with its great historical past. While teaching I learned a lot of things here.
In the schoolyard there was a rock grave which had apparently been dug before and although it had been covered by the villagers it was still noticeable. Among the mound of soil I noticed a terracotta woman sculpture missing a head, about 15 cm in size. I took it in my hand and observed it in curiosity. It was obvious that it was replicated from a mould. The fingerprint of the person who made it was clearly visible behind the sculpture. This affected me a lot. I put down this piece which I believe belonged to the Hellenistic-Roman era, back in its place. It was obvious that grave robbers must have thought this piece was worthless because it had a missing piece.
In social studies lessons I remember telling my students: “Every piece found here is a heritage left to your village by other village people who lived here thousands of years ago. But this heritage is not for selling, it’s to be protected. Every piece that is stolen from here will be a piece that will be missing from your past. So if you see anyone trying to smuggle them, call the police.” One of my students said: “Sir, there are much more of these broken pieces near the sea shore.”
When I reached the sea shore I realised that I was standing before unbelievable nature and historical wonder which covered a wide area. The rocks were clean cut and sloped towards the sea. This was once a slipway. After the ships were completed, they were brought down into the sea from these slipways. The depth was suitable for this. This couldn’t be anything else but the great Phoenician Shipyard.
As I looked around I realised that I wasn’t mistaken. The carved hollows within the rocks which gave the impression of a grave and the red rock marks within the hollows were used in the making of ships, where the wood was heated and stretched out. The smaller hollows were used for melting resin. Resin was used to protect the wood, enable it to stick and to prevent the ship from taking in water.
A bit further down were the metal and bronze studs with other metal rings and parts which were prepared in the making of ships. The most important part of my findings was the metal atelier where the lead panels were made to protect the bottom part of the ships from the water.
The natural bellows obtained by the pressure created by the sea waves within the rock hollow sand the capturing of the high heat to give the metal shape was a genius discovery. Right next to the pressure hole the thousands of years old iron cinders were still evident. Walking east from the slipways, it was obvious that each rock had been touched by human hand.
Due to the sand, I had not been able to see the walls that went down along the shores until today. However recently when I went to take photos almost all the city walls were in the open. Just like the large rock in Enkomi, they were cut in blocks, in rows of two and one metre thick. This shows us that this place was guarded by castle walls at one time.
There were many, and a great variety of ceramic pieces which I had not seen so much of before. Among them were pieces from Amathus, Lapta-Lambousa amphoras, the fact that these were brought from different parts of the island increased the importance of this place even more. All the ceramics produced from the four characteristic Cyprus clay colours of white, black, red and green were gathered here. Alagadi was not just a place where ships were made- it was the import-export centre of the Ancient Era. Products that came from overseas were distributed to the city states along the shore while products from the cities were taken there for storage before being shipped overseas.
There are mainly Hellenistic-Roman ceramic pieces in this place and there is one area which I believe to be a temple. The Phoenicians always made their rectangular planned temples in the colonies they established.
Today Alagadi is known as a Turtle Protection Area but its rich historical background has not been brought to the fore. I believe it could be a scientific research project. Then all we have known about Cyprus history up until today can be written all over again.
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